Ask an indie rock veteran: How vital are medicine to a music scene?

Illustration: Karl Gustafson

Hey there. My identify is Paul Maroon, and I’m an expert musician who’s performed in bands for the previous 30 years, most just lately in a bunch referred to as The Walkmen. In that point, I’ve picked up a good quantity of data, a few of which is definitely fairly helpful: Easy methods to kill every week at a Toronto airport resort. Easy methods to resolve the puzzles at Cracker Barrel. What to do when your bandmate actually falls asleep onstage at a SXSW showcase. I’m now hoping to go a few of this expertise on to you—the aspiring musician, in addition to the listener who could also be interested by music generally. So I’m providing my companies within the type of this new recommendation column for The A.V. Membership.

If in case you have any questions—about being in a band, about touring and recording, or actually something in any respect about music—please ship them to me at this e-mail tackle, and I’ll reply them right here. Truly, when you have any questions on something, ship them on in: Children, politics, sports activities—no matter. Something you’d like my recommendation on, I’ll be glad to supply it.


To get began, listed here are some questions The A.V. Membership workers despatched me.

I’m a musician, and my biggest need is to play in entrance of big crowds at festivals. However on the similar time, I’ve a reasonably crippling worry of doing precisely that. Did you or anyone you encountered within the rock life have this downside?

I truly do know some people who find themselves afraid of this. Folks have fairly sudden issues onstage. I do know a singer for an enormous band who principally is considering peeing the entire time—the place the lavatory is, why he has to pee so quickly, why he can’t cease peeing and simply take pleasure in himself (this kinda looks like the worst half). By way of dealing with stage fright, apparently it by no means goes away completely. If it’s on the degree of an irrational worry (I’m going to get hit by a meteor), it may be muscled all the way down to practical worry degree (I’ll most likely get punched within the face on Friday night time in Boston).


Let’s say you’ve gotten a child who’s afraid of the darkish. If you happen to depart the sunshine on on a regular basis, the worry simply grows. If you happen to flip all of the lights out, you traumatize them. So it’s a must to wade on in, so to talk, with a nightlight and some tantrums. Ultimately they might not love the darkish, however they’ll sleep in it each night time. Now, let’s apply this depressing metaphor: Mainly, it’s a must to rise up there. Possibly don’t begin by opening for Child Rock in Philly. However should you can persuade Joan Baez to allow you to play a music or two earlier than her in, say, Vermont, you would possibly be capable to begin quietly realizing it’s not the tip of the world.

How can an individual develop their very own particular person model—in music, in trend, in artwork, and many others.?

That is such a tough query. I principally spent all my free time from 13 to 30 making an attempt to develop a novel “model” of taking part in guitar and piano with, I feel I can say this pretty, various levels of success. Essentially the most tangible results of this effort is that the 5 or so folks standing in entrance of me each night time are attempting to ship a textual content message whereas overlaying each their ears. Attempt it; it’s arduous. One night time I seemed down, and my good friend Hamilton [Leithauser]—who actually sings as if his life depends upon it each night time—was screaming on the prime of his lungs, and proper at his toes there was a lady truly speaking on the telephone. Not texting, however speaking, along with her finger in her different ear. Staring blankly, proper at him. I ponder how folks get her consideration.


Now, some of us are blessed proper off with a novel perspective, which might help. However effortlessly authentic individuals are far and few between. And expertise and originality don’t provide the self-discipline to jot down six hours a day for 70 years, like, say, Graham Greene. Although I do know completely nothing about trend, I wouldn’t be stunned if somebody like Alexander McQueen, dealing with a deadline each few months, may keep in mind how he solved nearly each design downside he encountered, whereas maybe not remembering the place his authentic inspirations got here from. As a result of in some unspecified time in the future, your means of assembling and organizing your ideas turns into your artwork, regardless of how mundane your authentic concepts.

I simply completed Meet Me In The Rest room, and it appears like all of these New York bands who had been contemporaneous to Jonathan Fireplace*Eater and The Walkmen—The Strokes, Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and many others.—had been consuming and doing coke 24/7. Are medicine simply inherent to a vibrant music scene?

I didn’t actually see this scene firsthand. Medicine didn’t work for us with our first band, Jonathan Fireplace*Eater, so by the point The Walkmen rolled round, we form of steered clear. My hunch is that no, you don’t want them, simply because I’ve by no means seen anyone get something achieved on arduous medicine. (Though, I did overhear somebody counting to 2,000 exterior a tour bus as soon as, which was spectacular in its means.)


Certain, Bob Dylan was on velocity when he wrote “Unhappy-Eyed Girl Of The Lowlands”—which, if I did that, I’d nonetheless be waking up my spouse in the course of the night time and reminding her, 50 years later. However “The Instances They Are A-Changin’” was written earlier than issues bought tremendous druggy, and it’s a masterpiece. It’s truly higher, so Dylan was nice earlier than the medicine. In the course of these scenes, there’s normally just one or two extraordinary folks, and they’re why the entire thing exists. Did it drive and encourage them that everyone they met was on medicine? Most likely not. It’s extra seemingly that it simply aggravated the shit out them.

What’s probably the most you ever bought paid for something music-related?

This isn’t actually what you requested, however a while in the past, The Walkmen acquired a invoice from our English label for a number of thousand kilos to have the remaining copies of our CD “destroyed.” It wasn’t that nice a sense. Particularly because it wasn’t, “Would you prefer to pay to have your CDs destroyed, and right here’s why it’s a good suggestion.” As a substitute, it was, “Your CDs have been destroyed,” with a invoice hooked up. So we break up it, and it was a few thousand bucks every. Spotify has put all of the CD-destroying crops out of enterprise.


However fortunately, round that point we additionally bought a TV advert, and—typically talking—that permits 5 folks to stay for about two months. Advertisements are the quickest option to make a buck. If you happen to get to a sure degree, like taking part in to 500 to 1,000 folks an evening, you additionally get provided the occasional personal social gathering, which is the following neatest thing. Promoting information doesn’t make any cash. Touring is dependable should you watch each penny, drive your self, and plan it your self. Sadly, should you’re in a kind of cocaine-and-alcohol scenes talked about above, you possibly can’t drive your self or plan something.

In case your youngsters determined they needed to be musicians once they bought older, what would you inform them?

I’d love for my ladies to be musicians. However what sort of musician are we speaking about? The third violinist within the Fort Collins Symphony Orchestra could be very, superb, even when that model of “Mo Cash, Mo Issues” she’s being pressured to play in entrance of Metropolis Corridor on July 4th isn’t. The great factor is, you’ll know by the point your child is about three whether or not skilled classical musician is a chance. It’s an extended shot.


For some motive, it’s arduous to visualise my little ladies rising as much as be jazz musicians. Once you’re feeling sentimental, you image highschool commencement, driving them to school, youngsters of their very own—however not taking part in, say, a trombone solo. Or stepping into an argument in her dorm room about Tower Of Energy. (That stated, I guess no person anticipated their candy boy to grow to be an offended youth soccer teacher named “Coach Sweat,” however my ladies have one.)

Then there are a bunch of genres, comparable to rock/rap/nation the place you haven’t any actual thought if it should work, you by no means actually know why it does—though it all the time appears so clear why it doesn’t—and, if it does, you already know it received’t for lengthy. You’re purported to be supportive as a mother or father, but it surely’s arduous to get behind this one. Nonetheless, my mother pressured me at emotional gunpoint to observe piano day-after-day, and I’m very grateful. So when it comes to doing it for a dwelling, I feel you simply have to appreciate it’s plan B. You jinx the entire thing whenever you make it plan A.

Is there ever a time when it’s okay to only give up?

Certain! Years in the past, my band performed in Memphis at a spot referred to as the Hello-Lo Lounge. We arrived, arrange, sat round for 5 hours. No one got here. Lastly, a younger man walked in and stated whats up. We began taking part in pool. At about 10 p.m. I requested the sound man if he anticipated anyone to indicate up. He stated that he’d gotten two calls in regards to the present. This was a little bit disappointing. After one other half hour, it occurred to me to ask the child if he had been one of many telephone calls, and he stated sure. After one other half hour or so he stated, “I’ve to let you know one thing… I referred to as twice.” At that time, we should always have left.


What questions do you’ve gotten? Ship them to me at, and I’ll assist the place I can.

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